Shannon McNear lives in the LowCountry of South Carolina with her
husband, eight children, a dog, a cat, a ferret, a goldfish, and a host
of trained roaches. She’s been writing on one thing or another since
third grade and is currently at work on two novels, a historical set in
1780’s South Carolina and a fantasy, the story of her heart. She has
also served in worship and women’s ministry and as ACFW Southeast Zone
Director and president of her local ACFW chapter. Glimpses of her life
can be found at http://shenandoahdawn.blogspot.com.
The princess sank, still weeping, into a cushioned chair. While a woman-in-waiting poured her a cup of wine, Daymonde sat on the edge of a sofa and glanced back at Captain Strathmuir, guarding the door of the private parlor. This was the most privacy he could expect.
Where to begin?
While Glenmarr’s daughter sipped and tried to compose herself, Daymonde studied her. Fiona. Shadows lay beneath her eyes, contrasting with the absolute whiteness of her face. A finely woven netting tamed the blaze of her hair. A dark gown shrouded her curves—more rounded than he remembered.
She is young, but will grow, Glenmarr had said. Indeed, she had already.
After hours of effectively blocking everyone else’s thoughts and emotions, Daymonde surrendered to the inevitable and unclenched his Gift. Sorrow radiated from Fiona, so profound he nearly doubled over and wept.
“My—my lady,” he said. “I am sorry.”
One elbow propped, she leaned her cheek in her hand and rested the cup on her knee. Tears spilled over her cheeks. Daymonde expected anger—questions about why he hadn’t done something to prevent her father’s death—but her spirit still floundered in shock and regret.
Regret? What could this pale, colorless creature have done to warrant that?
He probed deeper. A sense of unworthiness suffused her, a longing for affection and approval, and the compounded grief of losing both mother and father in less than two years. Underlying all, an awareness of her father’s disappointment that she was not a male child and that none had come behind her.
Daymonde had always admired the king’s tenacity in not putting away his queen to seek another wife, though she miscarried time and again, or even taking a mistress. He’d never considered that Glenmarr’s devotion to both wife and daughter might not have been clear to them.
What, then, did Fiona need from him in this?
He cleared his throat and offered the first words that came to mind. “Your father died bravely, m’lady. He gave himself for Nyland and her allies, and helped win a great victory.”
The young woman straightened, sniffling. Inside her, acceptance warred with petulance. She knew she should care about her father’s sacrifice—but she only felt alone.
“His last thought,” Daymonde tried again, “was of you. He was most anxious to see you provided for.”
Fiona crushed the handkerchief in her fingers and took another steadying drink of the wine. Daymonde saw what she did not say, Which of my father’s captains am I to be given to?
Her eyes lifted to his, shimmering tears turning pale blue to grey. But she couldn’t hold his gaze for long—most people could not. Her attention skimmed his travel-worn silhouette: long, dark hair, braided back; black leathers; and muddied cloak and boots. Awe twinged inside her as she glanced again into his bearded face.
As he expected.
What now? He sat forward, elbows on knees, then gestured to the officer behind him. “Strathmuir, help me.”
Glenmarr’s second-in-command snorted. “The king gave the task to you, man.” Derision lurked in Strathmuir’s thoughts, balanced oddly with resignation. Before Daymonde could think about that, Strathmuir continued, softer this time, “The council already approved, as you well know.”
No way out there, then.
Curiosity pulsed from both Fiona and her attendant. Daymonde smiled, but without humor. “Your father’s last wish was that I wed you.”
Color flooded Fiona’s cheeks, fueled by fresh shock and confusion. And then a thread of—relief he could live with, but nay, please, not gladness!
She could find it within herself at this moment to be happy?
“And what. . .do you wish?” Her voice was barely a ripple in the room.
He would not lie—but neither did he want to crush her spirit with the knowledge of his reluctance. “I will obey the king’s word.”
Her breast rose and fell. Another swirl of emotions, this time more difficult to sift. One thing surfaced, and Daymonde winced. She guessed well enough that he’d been pressed to the decision, and the knowledge slid a knife of fresh rejection into her gut.
The trembling of the cup in Fiona’s hands reminded him of another cup and the promise made over it. He longed to have again the moment when he’d acquiesced to Glenmarr’s wishes. Why could he not draw a clear line in his conscience between denying himself in service to the Law and fulfilling one man’s needs?
What if his dread sprang from the Gift itself, and not from mere preference?
The rustle of skirts brought his attention back. Fiona tried to bear the weight of his eyes this time—tried to be brave. When she faltered again, Daymonde said, “To soften the necessity of our wedding, we can wait a suitable interval—say, until high summer.”
She nodded slowly.
“And you will be queen in your father’s place.” Details, but necessary ones. “I’ve given this some thought, and it would be best if, because of the constraints of my Gift, I serve as your advisor, rather than king. Also—our first child will be a son and heir to my Gift.” A tremor through his middle startled him, at the thought of what a wedding must bring; he could feel the echo of the same in her. “Our second—a son if the Stranger so blesses—will be heir to Nyland’s throne. Is that acceptable to you?”
“Aye,” she managed.
He rose and offered his hand. Hers slipped across it, damp and cold while her heart still burned. The shock of those conflicting sensations, and the raw ache of her grief resonating through their joined hands, stole his breath.
He wrapped his free hand over hers and sank to one knee before her. “I’ve been charged with the keeping of your kingdom and your honor—and so I will do.”
If only his heart knelt so easily.